The people of earth . sky
By Robin Hazard Ray , Volunteer Docent and Jenny Gilbert , Director of Institutional Advancement
As summer turned to autumn , Cemetery docent Robin Hazard Ray ( RHR ) and Director of Institutional Advancement Jenny Gilbert ( JG ) talked with Roberto Mighty ( RM ), the first-ever Artist-in-Residence at Mount Auburn Cemetery . Typically , artists-in-residence receive backing from an institution , but the institution does not dictate what the artist will do or even expect a product at the end of the residency . Mighty ’ s remarkable video project , earth . sky , is still in progress , but is already a work of great emotional and aesthetic depth .
Each personal story elaborated in earth . sky took lengthy interaction with both the subjects and the graves in the landscape . Locations were filmed in every season , from the perspective of the mourners and also that of the decedent him- or herself . The pieces are designed to be shown on five screens surrounding the viewer , creating an immersive experience . earth . sky currently consists of 35 pieces , with portraits of 16 individuals . This interview was edited for brevity .
Mighty first came to Mount Auburn when he was called in to do a video documentary of “ A Glimpse Beyond ,” a site-specific celebration of music , dance , art , and poetry set within Mount Auburn ’ s stunning landscape .
RM : I had just come from an 18-month project with the Harvard Forest , where I was their artist-in-residence . It was a historical project about Puritans and Native Americans in the 17th-century . Hot on the heels of that , this came up . [ I noticed ] that many of the names on the monuments were the same Puritan families I had studied . That was very striking because [ the founding of Mount Auburn ] was about 200 years later .
RHR : For earth . sky , how did you go about choosing the people you decided to portray ?
RM : Like any National Historic Landmark , there ’ s lots of attention paid [ at Mount Auburn ] to the famous people . But I ’ ve always felt like an outsider everywhere I ’ ve been , and I ’ m fascinated by outsiders . So someone will say to me [ Henry Wadsworth ] Longfellow and Mary Baker Eddy , and I ’ ll say ,‘ Well , what about Smith ? Where ’ s Goldberg ? That unmarked grave : who ’ s that ?’ A lot is made about the abolitionist predilections of the founders of Mount Auburn Cemetery . But I wondered , what if those people were alive today ? What would that sentiment , that New England Transcendentalist , Congregational , post – Great Awakening mind-set , what would they be into now ? Well , they ’ d be into LGBT rights , the injustice of people not being able to
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